Augusta National founders deserve closer look

By Brandel ChambleeMarch 22, 2014, 12:00 pm

The program for the first Augusta National Invitational Tournament in 1934 included a page with pictures of 12 men who were designated as “Some of The Members of Augusta National Golf Club.” They were: Jay R. Monroe, Alfred Severin Bourne, W. Alton Jones, Thomas Barrett Jr., Fielding Wallace, Walton H. Marshal, John W. Harris, Richard C. Patterson Jr., M. H. Aylesworth, Grantland Rice, Clifford Roberts and Robert Tyre Jones Jr. All but two looked grim. W. Alton Jones had a hint of a smile and Robert Tyre Jones Jr., tanned and handsome, beamed. They were the only two without jackets. Robert, or Bob, as he was known in the diminutive (he preferred that to Bobby), was the only one without a tie. 

Some through inheritance, most through their own initiative, these men were colossally successful. Given the acquired suspicion and stigmatized view of high achievement today, it is worth pointing out that of all the factors that lead to success in a free-market economy, character is not the exception but the rule. And with the Masters less than a month away, this is an appropriate opportunity to take a closer look at some of the men responsible for giving golf its greatest event. 

W. Alton Jones (no relation to Bob) was born into a poor family in Missouri and rose to become president of what is now Citgo. He also contributed significantly to U.S. production for World War II, building a secret dynamite plant, an aviation fuel refinery and 3,000 miles of pipeline to deliver that fuel from Texas to the East Coast. Friends with Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jones was on his way to fish with the former President when he was killed in an American Airlines plane crash in New York City on March 1, 1962.

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Jay R. Monroe helped develop the first commercial calculator and established the Monroe Calculating Machine Co. in 1912. Merlin H. Aylesworth was the first president of NBC, the oldest broadcasting network in the United States. Alfred Severin Bourne, whose father was president of the Singer Sewing Machine Co., wrote a check for $25,000 (during the Depression, no less) to help start the club. 

Grantland Rice was a sports writer who made heroes of athletes with his elegant prose. He is best known for dubbing the backfield of the 1924 Notre Dame football team the “Four Horsemen,” a biblical reference to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse that is the most famous sports passage ever written. In his New York Herald Tribune article about the Notre Dame-Army game at the Polo Grounds, Rice began:

“Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army football team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down on the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below.” 

Who writes like that today? 

In 1935, when Gene Sarazen made a double eagle on the 15th hole during the last round of the Augusta National Invitational (it wouldn’t be called the Masters until 1939) and then beat Craig Wood the next day in a 36-hole playoff, it was Rice who branded the moment as “The shot heard ’round the world.” Litera scripta manet

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Clifford Roberts left school after the ninth grade, but as an investment banker made his way to Wall Street, where success put him in the company of great men. He was the first chairman of Augusta National (1931-1976) and had a restless discontent with the status quo of tournament golf. He conceived of the over- and under-par scoring system that we still use today. It was his ideas that led to free parking and pairing sheets, observation stands and roped-off fairways and greens. Those were ideas which accommodated needs that neither players nor patrons had yet thought of. When asked what made the Masters, Roberts was quick to deflect credit. “Bob Jones, of course,” he said. “His presence. Then the double eagle.” 

Bob Jones earned a mechanical engineering degree at Georgia Tech in 1922, a bachelor of arts degree in English literature from Harvard College in 1924, then passed the bar in 1926 after only three semesters at Emory School of Law. He won seven opens and six amateur major championships by the age of 28. In 1930 he won two of each in a feat of such deep-water greatness it was beyond the grasp of almost everyone to understand, let alone name (with apologies to George Trevor, who came up with “the Impregnable Quadrilateral,” and O.B. Keeler, who dubbed it a “Grand Slam”). 

The degrees and championships were the product of a man fizzing with moxie and intelligence, but years later, when the moss was creeping up once-heroic limbs, it was tales of Jones’ sportsmanship and sense of fair play that preceded him. 

President Eisenhower once said of Jones, “Those who have been fortunate enough to know him realize that his fame as a golfer is transcended by his inestimable qualities as a human being.” 

Bob Jones knew sport was about more than winning. He knew also that it was more than entertainment, that at its best it also plays a role in communicating values. 

The idea for Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters began with Jones, but long after he retired, it was the men listed here and scores of others like them, men of immeasurable abilities and ambition who kept alive, in this course and in this tournament, the promise of his genius.

Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).


Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship


Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.